Blair on Miliband's speech: "I’m not going to comment on the policy"

The former PM's silence is evidence of his scepticism.

While he hasn't gone as far as his old comrade-in-arms Peter Mandelson, who warned that Ed Miliband's energy price freeze risked taking Labour "backwards", Tony Blair has signalled his unease with Ed Miliband's policy agenda. He told Sky News:

I’m not really going to comment on Ed’s conference speech. It seemed to go down very well with people and was excellently delivered, I think. But I’m not going to comment on the policy.

He added:

He’s got the job of being leader of the opposition. I did that job for three years, I know how tough it is, I’m not going to get in his way.

Blair's explicit refusal to comment is strong evidence of his opposition to the policy. When he supports Miliband, as in the case of trade union reform, he says so

But with the exception of Blair, it is striking that not one Labour figure has echoed Mandelson's concerns, with many rebutting him (see Stephen Twigg's piece on The Staggers). Alastair Campbell, for instance, tweeted: "Peter M wrong re energy policy being shift to left. It is putting consumer first v anti competitive force. More New Deal than old Labour".

Elsewhere, Andrew Adonis has smartly noted that energy companies similarly threatened to withdraw investment when New Labour announced its windfall tax on them. He tweeted: "Labour's windfall tax 'will undermine our ability to invest, affect jobs and increase prices.' Yorkshire Electricity 1996 on Tony Blair" and "We may have to cut our investment programme if we face a windfall tax.' London Electricity 1996". 

And as the FT's economics editor Chris Giles points out, "Even though the Labour party cannot know how much utility bills would go up without the freeze, it is nevertheless saying that households would see a £120 benefit. If true, that is the equivalent of a £3bn tax on energy companies – which is smaller than the £5.2bn windfall tax the Blair government imposed on the utilities in 1997."

Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser